A Veteran Perspective: Pam Smith-Beatty


May 4, 2020

We met with Pam Smith-Beatty, Program Manager for the VA High Reliability Organization (HRO) project to gather insight on her military experience and how that translates to the work she does today.

Why did you decide to enlist in the US Air Force and what was the experience like?

I initially joined the US Air Force for the travel opportunities. During my senior year of college, I met an Air Force recruiter who talked about travel, but also about educational opportunities and a new nursing internship program; I was intrigued at the possibilities! I took my oath of office and was commissioned into the Air Force on the day I graduated from college, and I left for training two months later.

I stayed in the Air Force for almost 22 years; I did not travel like I wanted to, although I was stationed in South Korea for a year and loved it. The work opportunities were just as the recruiter had said – endless! I worked as a nurse in multiple specialties and was selected to get my master’s degree as a nurse practitioner, where I found my niche in nursing.

When did you decide you wanted to pursue a career outside of the military?

Although I enjoyed my military career, I knew it was time to retire when my children started high school. My husband was also in the Air Force, and with each promotion, our moves and separations became more frequent. I wanted our kids to have a stable home base for their final school years. I retired in 2003 and established our home base for six years, allowing everyone to graduate from high school and move on to college. Up to that point, I had never lived in the same house for more than three years.

How long have you been at Cognosante? Can you tell us a little bit about the HRO program?

I started work at Cognosante on March 2, 2020, as a team member for the VHA High Reliability Organization project. A high reliability organization (HRO) refers to an organization that has succeeded in reducing or avoiding catastrophes in an environment where accidents are expected because of the complexity and high-risk nature of the work, such as in hospitals. High reliability in health care means a hospital makes fewer mistakes than other organizations despite conditions that are stressful, fast-paced, or full of risk.

The VHA HRO contract is a multi-faceted approach helping VA health care facilities achieve High Reliability Organization status. HROs improve patient safety and decrease adverse events, such as infections, falls, and medication errors, all of which results in safer health care for our Veterans. I will be involved with assessing, training, and coaching VA employees and leaders towards these efforts.

Can you attribute any skills learned in the military to your professional success?

I give the Air Force most of the credit for who I am today, after my parents of course! The Air Force core values (integrity first, service before self, excellence in all we do) gave me the framework for my work ethic and drive for excellence. The education I received through the Air Force became the foundation of my ongoing passion for nursing. The experiences I obtained throughout my career helped build my expertise and finetune additional skills, such as active listening, critical thinking, and communications skills.

What made you select Cognosante as your employer of choice?

I was referred by my longtime friend, Sherri Simons, Senior Nurse Informaticist, who called and asked if I might be interested in joining the HRO project. I was already familiar with the company, and when I heard about the project, I knew I wanted to be a part of its success. I chose Cognosante because of the company’s leadership, principles, and the people working here. I feel very lucky and excited to be on this amazing team!